Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Answer: Who are these mythic characters...

Okay, I'm back--now an answer... 

Remember that our challenge was to figure out who and why for these pix.  

1.  Figure out who/what these photographs depict.  In particular, are they depicting real people, or just characters from the legendary past?  In either case, who are these people?  

The ideal answer to this Challenge would tell us:  
     (1) Who is the sculpture is depicting?  
     (2) Where the sculpture + building is located? 
     (3) If you can, what's the story here?  This is a lot of work--what's being commemorated?  

For Supreme Extra Credit, can you figure out who were the models for (a) the young girl in the center of the second picture, and (b) the rather ferocious looking fellow in the first?  

Answer:  Google Image search will take care of these two problems.  
For the ferocious-looking fellow, there's an image that tells us it's the Turks Head Building Providence, Rhode Island. Then doing the obvious query, 

     [The Turks Head Building Providence, Rhode Island ]

Tells us a lot about the building itself.  The Wikipedia article tells us that the 16-story building, constructed of white brick with granite and limestone trimmings, is featured by a massive Turk's head in the center of the curved façade, reminiscent of the wooden effigy of an Ottoman warrior that formerly adorned Whitman's corner. 
There are a great many ways to go next to double-check on the Wikipedia content.  A nice way to get local information of this kind is to search in the local newspaper(s).  In this case, the local rag is the Providence Journal.  (That's easy to look up, or you could note the link at the bottom of the Wikipedia article to the newspaper.)  
      [ "Turks Head" Providence Journal]
While the newspaper has a couple of articles on the building, I found that Brown.edu (the local university) has an article about the building, written up by an architecture group there.  This confirms the basic story, and provides a LOT of detail about the design and mechanical structure of the building.   
Of course, another way to get this kind of historical background is to look for a book that covers the history of the city.  Visiting Google Books with the query: 

     [ "Turks Head" Providence history ] 

leads to a couple of books.  Providence (by MacGown, 2006) has a pair of lovely images of the Turk's Head building, one from the "original" building (around 1850) and one from 1913 of the "new" building (which looks much like the photo above).  

Here's the photo from the Providence book: 

Part of page 17 from Providence.
It's a nice picture, but I wondered if I could find another version of it. So I screenshot this image and did another search-by-image.  I was able to find a lovely, hi-res version of this image that's from a scanned postcard.  (Photo postcards were quite the thing in the early 20th century.)  Here's a small section of that photo from the left side of the card, zoomed in and cleaned-up a bit.  

It's pretty convincing that this was an early Turk's Head building. 

But as Rosemary pointed out, if you look deeper into the list of Books, you can find the “Publications of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Volume 5” which can’t be viewed but the collection is available in the Internet Archives  Beginning on page 216, there's a long history of that site (who built what, and when), along with the story of the Turk's Head, which is long and somewhat disputed.  But it seems to have started as a ship's figurehead, and called (variously) the Sultan, Mustafa, or the Turk's Head, possibly as early as 1763.  The book goes on to say: 

When the "new" building was constructed in 1913, the architect naturally included a version of the head on the ship-like prow of the new building.  

For the second image...  a simple Google Image search gives us this response:

I'm obviously not the first person to take this picture.  

A simple query like: 

     [palau de la música catalana sculpture]

tells us (from multiple sources) that the building's architect was Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The large sculpture on the corner is by Miquel Blay, and is entitled La cançó popular catalana (1909). 

Catalan song is personified as a graceful maid before a group of male and female figures. Above them is a copy of a silver statuette of St. George in the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya chapel.
Now, can we figure out who the model was?  

In short... I wasn't able to do so.  After many attempts querying for "model" and reading about the life of Miguel Blay (aka Miquel Blay in Catalan, and full name: Miguel Blay y Fàbregas), and even trying queries like: 

     [ biografía Miquel OR Miguel Blay ] 

I struck out.  (With this query I was hoping to find a biography of his life, possibly with a chapter describing the time he was working on the Palau sculpture.  But no such luck.  If any of the SRS Regular Readers of Spanish happen to figure this one out, let me know!) 

I even checked out images of all of the Blay's sculptures, hoping to find a common thread among the young women in his statues, but that failed as well--he seems to have either used multiple models, or he has an extraordinary inventive capacity.  

Search lessons:  The foremost lesson is obvious--sometimes searches fail.  I wasn't able to figure out the model for the Palau sculpture, even though I spent a couple of (happy!) hours searching for it.  I'm reluctant to invest much more time because there's no evidence that he had a consistent female model for his works, or that he had a particular person in mind (as opposed to the generic "personification of music" that we found).  

For the Turk's Head building, the lesson here was that sometimes digging deeply into the Books actually pays off handsomely.  I wasn't able to find the Historical Society texts using just regular web search--the books content is buried a bit too deeply for that.  

Plus, looking up the text on the Internet Archive was a stroke of genius.  

Lots of stuff is out there, if only you keep looking, and bear in mind that sometimes you have to go to the door and open it up to see what's inside.  

Search on! 


  1. Again: Who is the singing girl at the front of the group ?

    I believe she is Conchita Badia born in Barcelona 1897 who was a singing sensation, even by 1905. She sang at the Palau de la Musica in 1908. Her father was a sculptor and so was Miguel Blay.

    Can't find proof right now and have run out of time but she sure seems the best candidate.

    jon tU

    1. Jon -- Would love to see your reasoning about why you think she's the girl. Let us know when you get time!

    2. Dr. Russell, I'd así to muy friends un Barcelona if they know something. Alzó, I'd write to Museo del Prado and search for more information in Spanish.

      I'll keep us posted.

  2. JtU… just an observation, but she would only have been 12 years old when the sculpture was completed & wouldn't have her stage singing debut for another 4 years…
    maybe Miquel Blay was clairvoyant, but the dates don't really synch for her to be the muse… (still waiting for the PSY selfie)
    "Conxita Badia was born Concepció Badia i Millàs in Barcelona on 14 November 1897 and studied under Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla and Pablo Casals. She had initially enrolled in the Granados Academy as a piano student, but Granados 'discovered' her voice during a solfège examination. Her first appearance on the stage was as one of the six flower maidens in a performance of Wagner's Parsifal at the Palau de la Música Catalana in 1913 when she was only 16 years old."
    Conchita Badía
    Conxita on YT

    (think Dan already endorsed rosemary's hypothesis from 4/20…)
    ''La Cançó Popular''
    GOO translation

    fwiw: found this Turks Head maquette -
    not as sinister as what is on the building…

  3. Here’s another part to the St George & the Dragon story which suggests the name Princess Cleodolinda http://www.kellscraft.com/stgeorge.html

    During my book search I realized that I could do a search of books.google.fr. As Google expands its efforts to scan books am I right to think that book searches should be done by the relevant domain France for example. Is there a list of countries participating?

    1. interesting find and support for your identification - think you are on the right path - the tale has been massaged through time.
      you may be interested in this -
      North Africa/Libya
      alternate identity - the princess Sabra, the daughter of King Ptolemy of Egypt
      "He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you."
      - Friedrich Nietzsche

      Villa Silene (Sileen)
      just a bit east of Benghazi
      Al Baiḍāʾ a troubled area
      crying face, zoom out
      maybe near Tripoli…? also troubled…
      Leptis Magna, Libya

  4. And related is this article which is interesting that suggest Internet Archives is expanding its efforts in several areas.

  5. ["cançó popular catalana" intext:escultura intext:dona]

    Information about Miquel Blay in Catalan

    Also asked Palau Musica They said there is no much information. They recommended visit Palau or Wikipedia in Catalan.

    Still waiting Museo del Prado.

    Female model sculpture photo search-by-image plus [Miquel Blay Muse]

    Obra Escultor Miquel Blay
    Miquel Blay, Catalan Wikipedia From here to
    La cançó popular, wikipedia Catalan

  6. I conducted my search exactly along your lines and then noodled around a bit more in catalan wikipedia Conxita Badia's name kept coming up so I followed her. I think she was the epitome of what Blay hoped to represent in a young maid of song.

    Also Blay did not make the sculpture. He made a 1/3 scale model which met the approval of the authorities so his maquette was sent off to the carvers who scaled it up to full size. Changes could certainly be introduced there.

    Conxita was a musical force her entire life.